Smart Study of God’s Word

Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, NLT)

How happy is the man…his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2, HCSB)

Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. (Joshua 1:8, NLT)

Biblical meditation doesn’t mean taking a few words taken out of context that we feel free to apply to our own lives in whatever random ways come to mind. We need to view the Bible as God coherently speaking to us in trains of thought. He is a master communicator, so He chose the words carefully. It’s not only the words that matter, but also the particular meanings God attaches to those inspired words—meanings determined by context.

Meditation ungrounded in thoughtful, rational biblical interpretation is not smart or productive meditation. Why? Because it bypasses the actual thoughts of God carefully expressed in God-breathed words. These words are definitely important. They are intended to communicate specific truth to us. But if we latch onto a few of those words and then attach our subjective personal meanings to them, then we substitute our thinking or human speculation for God’s own words. In turn, we act as if our thoughts are His inspired thoughts. That may cause a major corruption of those thoughts.

For instance, we might read Deuteronomy 29:29: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God…” We could meditate on the idea that since some things are secret we should not push ourselves to better understand God’s Word. We shouldn’t bother to contemplate divine sovereignty and human responsibility, or to ponder the wonders of the Trinity. Why? Because those things are not for us to know. But in fact, that is not the meaning of the passage. The second part of the verse demonstrates this: “…but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever.”

Many passages say we’re to contemplate the great truths of God’s Word. Only then can we break away from the shallowness of our culture. We have too many unthinking, superficial Christians who are either too lazy or unmotivated to study God’s Word. They say, “We know too much doctrine. What we need to do is just live it out.” But in fact, we know less doctrine than the church of Jesus Christ has ever known, and much of our failure to live it out is due to the fact that we’ve never made the effort to learn it in the first place.

Similarly, we can read, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). We can stop there and erroneously apply it to Heaven, which is not the central subject Paul is talking about. We can also ignore the critical statement in verse 10: “…these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit…”

In context, the revelation by God’s Spirit is the inspired Word of God. Hence, we believe what eyes have not seen, nor ears heard, and have not entered into our thoughts except by God’s revelation to us in His Word. Therefore our eyes are to see and our ears are to hear it and they are to enter into our hearts precisely because God has spoken to us, and we have taken the time and effort to study His Word!

Here are some great quotations that further develop these thoughts:

To get the full flavor of an herb, it must be pressed between the fingers, so it is the same with the Scriptures; the more familiar they become, the more they reveal their hidden treasures and yield their indescribable riches. — John Chrysostom, 347-407   

…the common people cry out for the scripture, to know it, and obey it, with great cost and peril to their lives. — John Wycliffe, 1395   

I had perceived by experience, how that it was impossible to establish the lay people in any truth, except the scripture were plainly laid before their eyes in their mother tongue, that they might see the process, order, and meaning of the text. — William Tyndale, 1530   

How shouldest thou understand, if thou wilt not read, nor look upon it? Take the books into thine hands, read the whole story, and that thou understandest, keep it well in memory; that thou understandest not, read it again, and again. If thou can neither so come by it, counsel with some other that is better learned. Go to thy curate and preacher; show thyself to be desirous to know and learn, and I doubt not but God—seeing thy diligence and readiness (if no man else teach thee)—will himself vouchsafe with his holy spirit to illuminate thee, and to open unto thee that which was locked from thee. — Thomas Cranmer, 1540   

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them...The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly. — Westminster Confession of Faith, 1647

I want to know one thing, the way to heaven: how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way; for this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price give me the Book of God! …I…search after and consider parallel passages of Scripture, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. I meditate thereon, with all the attention and earnestness of which my mind is capable. If any doubt still remain, I consult those who are experienced in the things of God: And then, the writings whereby being dead, they yet speak. And what I thus learn, that I teach. — John Wesley, 1746

I had then, and at other times, the greatest delight in the holy Scriptures, of any book whatsoever. Oftentimes in reading it, every word seemed to touch my heart. I felt a harmony between something in my heart, and those sweet powerful words. I seemed often to see so much light, exhibited by every sentence, and such a refreshing ravishing food communicated, that I could not get along in reading. Used oftentimes to dwell long on one sentence, to see the wonders contained in it; and yet almost every sentence seemed to be full of wonders. — Jonathan Edwards, 1703-1758

It is strange how powerful is the tradition of the pulpit; how often able and thoughtful men will go all their lives taking for granted that an important passage has that meaning which in youth they heard ascribed to it, when the slightest examination would show them that it is far otherwise. — John A. Broadus, 1827-1895

In order to be able to expound the Scriptures, and as an aid to your pulpit studies, you will need to be familiar with the commentators: a glorious army, let me tell you, whose acquaintance will be your delight and profit. Of course, you are not such wiseacres as to think or say that you can expound Scripture without assistance from the works of divines and learned men who have laboured before you in the field of exposition…It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others. — C. H. Spurgeon, 1890

We fail in our duty to study God’s Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we are lazy. — R. C. Sproul   

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Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries